“What is the allure of liturgy for a new generation?”

Based upon his field research over the past few years, Winfield Bevins has provided us with a book-length answer to this question in Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation.

I’m very glad he’s done so, because this question is of existential significance for me and many other readers of Anglican Pastor! It’s what prompted me to start the “Rookie Anglican” blog shortly after becoming an Anglican myself in seminary.

I’ve attempted to summarize what’s drawing people to Anglicanism, but such a complicated and important topic deserves this book—not just a blog post!

Bottom line: Read this book!

Whether or not you, like me, are one of the young people of which Bevins speaks, you should care about what’s driving this “liturgical resurgence.”

Ever Ancient, Ever New can help you (1) find and/or (2) provide a liturgical home for those of all ages who are seeking a faith that is a way of life—not merely entertainment or a list of beliefs.

If you are one of the young adults that Bevins is talking about, then this book can help put words to what you’re experiencing. It could help you reflect on what you’re going through. It could also help family and friends understand!

(To learn more about this book, you should read my interview with Winfield Bevins.)


Summary

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. Foundations: Why young adults are drawn to liturgy.
  2. Journeys: How/where they are embracing liturgy.
  3. Practices: How you/we all can embrace liturgy.

Part 1: Foundations

1. The New Search for Liturgy

In chapter 1, Bevins situates the recent liturgical resurgence as a “premodern” reaction to the shifts from modernity to postmodernity. He offers eight reasons why young adults are embracing liturgy (pp. 33–42). They are searching for:

  1. Holistic spirituality
  2. A sense of mystery
  3. Historical rootedness
  4. A countercultural faith
  5. Belonging to the catholic (universal) Church
  6. Sacramental spirituality
  7. Gracious orthodoxy
  8. An anchor in spiritual practices

2. The Power of Liturgy

At this point, I understood the “allure for a new generation.” But what about “liturgy”? What do we mean by liturgy?

In chapter 2, Bevins defines “liturgy” as “the work of the people,” referring “both to something we do together in corporate worship and to individual spiritual disciplines, practices that help root us daily in the worship of God” (47).

He then offers another list of 5 reasons why the liturgy resonates with people today (pp. 48–54). Liturgy:

  1. Tells a story
  2. Frees us from ourselves
  3. Forms us
  4. Sanctifies time
  5. Is participatory

I agree with these 5 items, but the presence of another list so similar to the one in the previous chapter made me wonder why these two lists couldn’t be combined.

Bevins then moves from the “why” to the “how” of liturgy, helpfully expanding upon his brief definition of liturgy by offering a summary/overview of the (Eucharistic) liturgy’s fourfold pattern:

  • Gathering
  • Hearing
  • Feeding
  • Sending

Pages 54 to 63, then, function as a helpful introduction to the liturgy of Holy Communion.

(For another such introduction, a “Rookie Anglican guide” to Holy Communion, click here.)

3. Surprised by Orthodoxy [Creeds and Catechesis]

Chapter 3 focuses on the creeds and their relevance in a pluralistic environment plagued by “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).”

Bevins argues that young people are drawn to the historic (creedal) Christian faith because it provides them with certainty and communal identity (pp. 69–71). I agree with this argument overall, but I wonder if “certainty” is too strong a word—I think “stability” is more accurate.

Nevertheless, this chapter provides an excellent introduction to both the creeds (pp. 74–78) and catechesis/catechisms (pp. 78–80) as ways of securing “comprehensiveness without compromise,” a faith with both breadth and a center (pp. 80–83).

(For another introduction to the creeds and why Anglicans say them, click here. For more on catechesis and catechisms, click here.)

Part 2: Journeys

Having laid the foundations in part 1, Bevins now examines four different ways/paths that young people are taking as they embrace liturgy.

4. The Appeal of Ancient Traditions [Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy]

In chapter 4, Bevins takes a look at the historic institutions/traditions of

  • Anglicanism,
  • Roman Catholicism, and
  • Eastern Orthodoxy.

He argues that young adults are attracted to these traditions because they are drawn to

  • sacred space,
  • aesthetic beauty, and
  • structure.

Bevins concludes the chapter with a brief primer on liturgical postures—standing, sitting, kneeling, crossing yourself, etc.—for those visiting a liturgical service for the first time.

(For more information on these “liturgical dance moves,” click here.)

5. The Quest for Community [New Monasticism]

Next, Bevins examines the “New Monasticism” movement. As four illustrations of this movement, he describes:

Bevins claims that New Monasticism can help us learn:

  • How to combine the old/traditional with the new
  • Community
  • A “Rule of Life”
  • Reconciliation, unity, and diversity
  • Biblical hospitality.

6. Something Ancient, Something New [Neo-Liturgical Churches]

Chapter 6 takes a closer look at “neo-liturgical” churches—churches that embrace various aspects of the liturgy without joining a historic liturgical tradition (such as Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy).

As three illustrations of this movement, Bevins describes:

Bevins argues that neo-liturgical churches resonate with people because they have:

  • Ancient and modern worship
  • Word and Table
  • A sense of community
  • A passion for social justice and outreach.

7. Three Streams, One River [Three Streams, the Convergence Movement]

“Three streams” churches are evangelical, liturgical, and charismatic. Bevins offers a brief history of charismatic movements in the Church, including within Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism (pp. 143–147), before offering various contemporary examples of “three streams” churches, including:

Bevins argues that these “three streams” churches can help all churches recover balance, unity, and spiritual renewal.

Part 3: Practices

Having answered the main question of the book (Why are young people drawn to the liturgy?) in part 1 and described various paths people are taking as they embrace liturgy in part 2, Bevins concludes the book by offering some practical guidance for those who would like to incorporate more liturgical practices in their lives.

8. Rhythms of Grace

In chapter 8, Bevins gives brief introductions to the following spiritual practices:

To learn more about spiritual disciplines, Bevins recommends reading Richard Foster’s classic work, Celebration of Discipline.

9. Connecting Liturgy and Mission

Some see the liturgy as a missional liability. After all, there is a pretty steep learning curve. Does the liturgy help churches fulfill the Great Commission?

Bevins argues that it does, and he explores “how a service constructed according to the history fourfold order (Gathering, Hearing, Feeding, Sending) of liturgical worship fosters a posture of mission” (p. 176).

As examples of this, Bevins notes:

Bevins claims that the liturgy forms us for mission. It can be a welcome relief for those who have become disillusioned with modern worship services, and it can and should prompt us all to “find our own Calcutta,” a place to serve those who need the gospel of Jesus Christ.

10. Bringing Liturgy Home

So much for why young adults are drawn to the liturgy. What about young families?

Bevins notes that plenty of young families are embracing liturgy, because:

  • Liturgy invites participation
  • The repetition of words makes it easier for children to learn
  • It provides practices for home life, such as the Daily Office of morning and evening prayer
  • It helps recover Sabbath rest
  • It structures life around the seasons of the Christian year.

Strength: Covers the why and the how

I really enjoyed Ever Ancient, Ever New, and I heartily recommend it. Bevins satisfactorily answers the main question of the book. He describes in detail, with plenty of illustrations and context, just what is drawing a new generation to the liturgy.

In addition, he provides plenty of practical guidance so that readers who are “liturgically curious” will have plenty of first steps to take in (1) finding a liturgical church home and/or (2) making both their homes and their churches more liturgical!

Lingering question: What about authority? Do liturgy and bishops go together?

To be fair, this is not a book about episcopal polity or authority. Hence “lingering question,” and not “weakness.”

Nevertheless, in my work for Rookie Anglican and Anglican Pastor, I have heard “episcopal oversight/authority” cited as a reason why people—especially young ministers—are drawn to Anglicanism.

Especially during the discussions of “New Monasticism” (chapter 5), “neo-liturgical” churches (chapter 6), and “three streams” churches (chapter 7), I wondered whether the dangers of a “cut and paste” approach to liturgy (which Bevins notes on page 129) also extend to a “cut and paste” approach to the Church’s historic threefold office of bishops, priests/presbyters, and deacons.

I’m reminded here of Tish Harrison Warren’s excellent article: “Why Evangelicals Should Care More about Ecclesiology.”

Bevins does mention “structure and authority” on pages 102–103. However, he mainly has in mind the structure that the liturgical prayers provide.

What about the people who provide structure and authority? Is a local church fully liturgical if there is no one in authority above the senior pastor?

(Perhaps Winfield and Tish would be interested in continuing this conversation about liturgy and authority in future Anglican Pastor posts! If you’d like that, let them know in the comments below!)

Take up and read!

I heartily recommend Ever Ancient, Ever New. May this book help the “liturgical resurgence” continue!